ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — The Altoona Fire Department played center stage for Governor Josh Shapiro Monday morning as he outlines the part of his state budget aimed at helping first responders across the commonwealth.
Shapiro outlined his proposed state investments of $36 million in new equipment, training and salaries for firefighters and EMS personnel. He also detailed a $50 million proposal for Pennsylvania’s 9-1-1 emergency communications systems.
Shapiro said these funds are crucial in helping keep communities safe and departments up and running. He also said the money can take the burden off the county governments.
“We have to act now. We have to make sure those resources are delivered so we can keep our communities safe,” Shapiro said.
Fire Cheif Free said the budget would go a long way for departments like Altoona and other volunteer companies who are continuing to battle rising costs and staffing shortages.
“Our most recent hiring campaign we had fewer than 30 applicants and after the testing process, we were left with ten eligible candidates,” Free said. “In the past year alone, the cost of our personal protective clothing has risen over $1,000 per set. Then the past four years, the cost of self-contained breathing apparatus has raised by over $2,000 a piece.”
Operating costs for 9-1-1 centers are also up 23%. Governor Shapiro said $50 million of the budget is set to address that and help keep up with costs over time. In Blair County, they take around 84,000 calls a year and new opportunities are already being considered.
“Here in Blair County. We also love to have a new training facility so as to lessen the burden on our folks who have to travel elsewhere to get their training,” Commissioner Webster said.
Shapiro also received a tour of the Altoona Fire Department with a demonstration from Altoona’s arson dog.
Joining Shapiro was Acting Fire Commissioner Tom Cook, Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico, Blair County Commissioner Amy Webster, Altoona Fire Chief Adam Free and City of Altoona Firefighter & Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association Western Vice President Pat Miller.